Parents of ‘Midnight Rider’ Crew Member Sarah Jones Settle Wrongful Death Suit

Jones was killed in a train accident on the Georgia set of "Midnight Rider."

ByMARC DORIAN, LAUREN PUTRINO and LAUREN EFFRON
November 19, 2014, 4:39 PM

— -- The parents of Sarah Jones, the 27-year-old camera assistant who was killed in a train accident on the Georgia set of "Midnight Rider," announced today they have reached a settlement with several defendants in the wrongful death suit they filed against the film’s producers and corporations who own the railroad tracks where the accident took place.

According to a statement from the Jones' family, the terms of the settlement are confidential but the defendants in the settlement include veteran filmmaker Randall Miller, who was writing, producing and directing "Midnight Rider," and was also shooting a full scene at the train trestle when the accident happened, witnesses told "20/20." Other defendants named in the settlement included Miller’s wife and producer Jody Savin, the film's location manager, Charley Baxter, and other producers.

However, CSX Transportation, Meddin Studios LLC and executive producer Jeffrey N. Gant of Meddin Studios remain in the civil suit, according to the family’s statement.

“Richard and Elizabeth Jones’ objectives in filing this lawsuit, after the death of their 27-year-old daughter, Sarah, have been clear and unwavering,” Jones family attorney Jeff Harris told ABC News in a statement today. “To find out what happened on the day of their daughter’s death, determine who was responsible, hold those who made bad decisions accountable and ensure this kind of tragedy never happens again on another film set. Today, we are another step closer to fully achieving those objectives.”

Sarah Jones was one of more than a dozen movie crew and cast members, including Academy Award-winning actor William Hurt, who walked onto an active train trestle high above a Georgia river in February. With the crew was a metal-framed hospital bed, a prop for filming a dream sequence for “Midnight Rider,” a film based on the life of rock star Gregg Allman.

Jones, who had worked multiple seasons on the show "Vampire Diaries" before taking the job on "Midnight Rider," was in charge of wrangling the camera gear.

While Jones and the rest of the crew were preparing to start filming, witnesses told "20/20" two trains passed by. After the second train, the crew moved out on the bridge to place a hospital bed and the camera on the train trestle.

The owner of the land adjacent to the bridge had allegedly given the production crew permission to be there and had also reportedly told them that only two trains would use the track that day.

There were no railroad officials or medical help present on set, witnesses told "20/20," nor was the film's location manager, Charley Baxter. He hadn't been able to obtain permission from the railroad to film on the trestle bridge. Baxter emailed the railroad's refusal to producers just before 11 a.m. that day.

Moments after the crew was in position and filming began, CSX train Q12519 with two locomotives and 37 freight cars came barreling down the track at an estimated 57 miles per hour, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report on their website.

Eyewitnesses told “20/20” that the cast and crew had to run along a narrow pathway toward the oncoming train to escape. The train struck the hospital bed, and killed Jones. Six other crew members were injured in the accident.

Miller and three other members of the "Midnight Rider" team were charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing. They are expected to go to trial in March.

Miller and his wife, producer Jody Savin, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

On Oct. 31, 2014, attorneys for Miller and Savin issued a statement to "20/20" that said, in part, "Randall Miller and Jody Savin have intense sorrow and regret over the tragic incident that occurred on February 20, 2014, causing the death of Sarah Jones... they believed there was no danger present in filming on the tracks that day because they believed they had permission to be on the tracks from Rayonier and CSX... They had no reason to believe that anyone would be placed in danger... They care deeply for their film crew and the actors working on their films. They will live with the sorrow of Sarah's death for the rest of their lives." Read their full statement at the end of this story.

Attorney Jeff Harris filed the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Jones' parents in May, which alleged that the film site was “unreasonably dangerous," accusing rock star Gregg Allman and the producers of the film of overlooking "minimum safety precautions" and shooting the scene without permission.

“She apparently had gotten just to the side as the train hit the bed, and it was going very fast. It just created shrapnel when it hit that bed, and the shrapnel apparently hit her and knocked her into the train,” Richard Jones told “20/20” in an interview earlier this year.

The suit alleged that the defendants -- producers of the film, Allman, as well as the corporations owning the tracks and the land surrounding them -- realized the danger at the site, but failed "to warn the cast and crew," and "actually concealed that danger by leading the cast and crew to believe that they were on the railroad tracks with permission."

Crew members have since claimed, as was alleged in the Jones' family suit, that they had less than 60 seconds to escape.

Jones was killed instantly. Crew members and Jones’s family think that Jones may have been slowed out of concern for her equipment. Her body was terribly mangled in the accident.

“I was all but out the door, ready to head to Savannah,” her mother, Elizabeth Jones told “20/20’ in a previous interview. “And the coroner said, ‘Ms. Jones, there’s nothing you can do here. It will be a closed casket and you should stay there and take care of your family.’”

Though they've lost their daughter, the Jones' mission to keep her memory alive has taken on a life of its own. A campaign, Slates For Sarah, has launched worldwide with cast and crew members holding movie slates with her name to raise awareness about film safety. Richard and Elizabeth Jones also established the Sarah Jones Film Foundation in her honor.

“Elizabeth and I are dedicated to ensuring that our daughter’s death is not in vain,” Richard Jones told ABC News in a statement today. “And through our work with the Sarah Jones Film Foundation we continue to advocate for safer film sets – keeping safety always at the forefront, never again an afterthought. Safety for Sarah.”

Full Statement from Attorneys for Randall Miller, His Wife and Producer Jody Savin to ABC News:

Our clients Randall Miller and Jody Savin have intense sorrow and regret over the tragic incident that occurred on February 20, 2014 causing the death of Sarah Jones. She was a truly exceptional, wonderful person. They believed there was no danger present in filming on the tracks that day because they believed they had permission to be on the tracks from Rayonier and CSX. Before filming, the film crew was let onto the property by Rayonier representatives. They were informed that only two trains would be going down the tracks by a representative from Rayonier, who was present. Then they personally observed two trains pass by. So when they were told to go ahead and film on the tracks they had no reason to believe that anyone would be placed in danger by doing so.

Randall Miller was on the tracks beside the bed directing the filming. He had no reason to believe another train would come down the tracks, or that he shouldn't rely on the information given by Rayonier that no other trains would come that day. He would never knowingly or deliberately put anyone on his crew in danger or put himself in danger. When Randall became aware of the approach of the train he and others attempted to lift a hospital bed, which was being used in the scene, from the tracks. As he was doing so the bed came apart causing him to fall on the tracks and the bed to fall on top of him. A crew member pulled him off of the rail and the overhang of the train passed over him as he lay alongside the tracks.

Randall Miller and Jody Savin have made more than 13 movies without a significant accident or injury. They care deeply for their film crew and the actors working on their films. They will live with the sorrow of Sarah's death for the rest of their lives. They are committed to working with the unions and others in the film industry to increase safety awareness and education on film sets.

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